Fashion / Style

Inside New York’s Handbag Heaven — Nancy Gonzalez Knows Size Matters

How Millennials are Changing the World of Purses

BY // 10.01.19

NEW YORK — It’s handbag heaven at Nancy Gonzalez. The spring 2020 collection has just arrived and brightly colored handbags of all shapes and sizes — from oversized totes and chic crossbody bags to glittering clutches and tiny wristlets — occupy just every every inch of the showroom floor at the company’s Manhattan offices.

Since debuting a small eight-piece collection in 1998, the Colombian-born designer has built her business into one of the world’s top luxury handbag companies. Known for sumptuous crocodile designs in candy colors, Gonzalez is expanding into other materials, like Panama straw, linen and mother of pearl, not normally associate with top-of-the-market handbags.

“For the new spring season, we are experimenting with millions of different things, ” general manager Eric Schneider-Abramson says. “We are now using wicker mixed with straw; we’re doing a printed lizard and we’re doing linen made in Europe. All of our handbags will always have a touch of some sort of exotic material that is not leather or straw, but we are expanding into a whole new arena of making handbags for every person in the luxury market.

“The sky’s the limit and that’s how Nancy is. She never has any boundaries. She wants to always evolve and go to the next level.”

When it comes to handbags, size matters, Schneider-Abramson argues.

“It’s so interesting,” he says. “One season it’s mini-bags, the next season it’s medium-size bags. We have everything from the biggest totes in crocodile down to a mini-bag down to a little wallet on a chain. We have a lot of collectors, too. Customers who buy 100 Nancy bags. There’s a customer in Dallas who made her husband build a new closet just to hold her Nancy bags.”

Nancy Gonzalez handbag spring 2020 collection
Nancy Gonzalez Wallis laser cut top handle handbag. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Gonzalez)

Schneider-Abramson finds that the millennial customer is eclectic in her handbag choices. “They like smaller bags, like a crossbody, but it’s different running around during the day or going to work, where they want a tote. For evening, they want a simple flat clutch. For the weekend, they throw on their crossbodys,” he says.

“Ten years ago, we would have the lady who lunched who wore her beautiful suit and carried her little top handle handbag to lunch. That customer is disintegrating. Now you have the woman who is wearing Lululemon and running around with her tote. It’s a different world. Because of that, we had to adapt.

“But the interesting thing is now this younger customer thinks that these top handle, harder shapes are what’s trending. It has a detachable strap and converts to a crossbody, so she’s wearing that way during the day. It’s not like these styles aren’t trending anymore; it’s just a different audience. Everything comes around full circle.”

The Rainbow River

The inspiration for the spring collection, which is available in Houston at Elizabeth Anthony, comes from the Caño Cristales in Gonzalez’s native Colombia. It is known as the “rainbow river” or “the river of five colors” because colored aquatic plants on the river bottom reflect vivid shades of yellow, green, blue, red and black.

“We took all those beautiful colors for the collection,” Schneider-Abramson says.

Unlike some “it” handbags that are plastered with logos, a Nancy Gonzalez handbag has no logo or distinguishing hardware on the outside of the bag: only a detachable banana leaf tag on a tote signifies the brand.

“We want the customer to be who they want to be with their bag and not be wearing a logo,” Schneider-Abramson says.

Gonzalez lives in Colombia, where she oversees design and manufacturing of the handbags, and only makes four to six personal appearances a year at stores. But during those visits, Gonzalez is often asked to sign three names inside a handbag because the customer wants to use it and then pass it down to her daughter and granddaughter.

“It’s so cool that we are able to do that. Not every style or brand can stand the test of time,” Schneider-Abramson notes.

The company experienced an emotional setback in 2017 when Gonzalez’s son, Santiago Gonzalez, died unexpectedly in his sleep. Santiago, 40, had helped his mother start the business and served as president and creative director, where he oversaw the brand’s global expansion and launched its first-ever shoe collection.

After his death, the shoe line was discontinued in order to focus on the core business. The company plans to relaunch a men’s collection, with a foundation dedicated to Santiago Gonzalez, Schneider-Abramson tells PaperCity.

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - On The Runway Spring 2020